The most recent version of these essays can be found at http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/faq/.
("That's what you get for swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool.")
Economy of expression is a good thing. So, rather than have to repeat myself continually, I'm posting my top rants here, for ready reference. Many of you (readers) will be visiting today because I pointedly referred you to the "#"-tagged URL of some particular item, below.
Table o' Contents
- Modems . . .
- Hardware . . .
- Linux Tire-Kicking . . .
- Virus . . .
- Proprietary Warez . . .
- MacLinux . . .
Crybaby . . .
- "You're opinionated!"
- "You're not showing respect for my views!"
- You're making ad hominem attacks!
- "I apologise."
- "I couldn't be expected to know better, because I'm not computer-literate".
- "But I didn't intend any harm!"
- I'm not responsible for the damage: If I wasn't supposed to do that, I shouldn't have been allowed.
- Netiquette . . .
- Miscellany . . .
Well, gosh, Sherlock, that's awfully observant. What's your point?
I have bad news for you, kiddo: In this cruel and confusing world, identifying who's "opinionated" helps you not at all in determining who's correct. Deal with it.
And your point is...?
The underlying assumption is that everyone must "respect everyone else's views". Wrong. Each featherless biped is entitled to decide that anyone else's views are without merit, and might also elect to state this position along with reasons for thinking so. Don't like it? Better luck next universe.
This isn't the same as being rude. If that's what you mean, please convince me: If any rudeness of mine seems unwarranted, I'll be grateful for the feedback, and try not to repeat the behaviour.
People who make this accusation often aren't entirely clear on what it means, but assume it means any remarks about a person, his/her doings, or his/her statements that cast the person in an unfavourable light -- "personal attacks" in some vague sense. The inference is that such remarks are objectionable because they're Not Nice.
But that is not what is meant by the term, and the inference is off-track.
In a general sense, a speaker can attempt to persuade you something is true either on the basis of his or her personal qualities as a subject-matter expert (or witness, etc.), or for reasons independent of the speaker's personal traits. For example, let's say I attempt to persuade you that you should prefer free software (aka open-source software), and someone listens to my reasons, but then comments that my view should be rejected because I'm a Communist.
Is this argumentum ad hominem? It depends entirely on what reasons I had cited. If I claimed you should believe me for reasons stemming from my being a moderate Democrat, then my critic has made a very good point (if he supports it). But, if I used the usual reasons of one sort or the other -- which have nothing particularly to do with me personally -- it's quite irrelevant whether I'm a Communist or a feudal monarchist (or anything in between!). In such cases, my critic is promoting a non sequitur. (His or her reasoning "doesn't follow". Note that showing a line of reasoning "doesn't follow" does not disprove the intended conclusion: It shows that one effort to establish it has failed.)
We call it "argumentum ad hominem" (argument against the man [who has spoken, rather than against his substantive points]) when a speaker's personal credentials or other personal qualities are disputed as a supposed objection to his reasoning, when his reasoning actually rested on different grounds entirely. It is one of the classic logical fallacies, and one of the most common varieties of non-sequitur logic.
Please note that the term has nothing to do with whether such reasoning is friendly, pleasant, or commendable: If you stake a claim on the basis of who or what you are, and garner replies containing vicious but relevant personal comments, you may or may not have a grievance, but it sure isn't about "ad hominem arguments".
Additionally, if someone merely dismisses you with some indication of public contempt, you may not enjoy the experience, but that isn't argumentum ad hominem, either: The critic didn't claim your reasoning was wrong because he or she doesn't take you seriously. He/she merely announced an intention to not take you seriously. You may have wanted a response to your points, but not all replies are responses: At times, some or all of your arguments will garner deliberate non-responses.
You arguably have quite a few inalienable rights, but being taken seriously isn't one of them. Neither is being respected (q.v.). Out of a world population in the billions, some significant number over your lifetime will think you've acted like a jerk. Others may think you seem to have demonstrated a reading comprehension problem on-line, and have no patience for you. Some may not like your taste in software, politics, or entertainment. I might conceivably have expressed displeasure about you in all of those areas or any one -- or merely ignored you -- but it's highly doubtful your rights have been violated, thereby: Most of humanity doesn't care about you at all, and part of it doesn't like you. Deal with it. Preferably without whining to the rest of us.
For more on this topic, including some very clear examples of what are and aren't argumentum ad hominem and why, I strongly recommend Stephen Bond's excellent essay on this same subject.
To be fair, on rare occasions this actually does mean something -- specifically when the speaker means he understands where and why things went wrong, regrets shooting me in the foot, will do what's feasible to set things right, and can & will take effective action to prevent recurrence. This is true about one time in a hundred.
The rest of the time, it means "I regret that I got found out, and want you to overlook it as quickly as possible. I messed up because I'm inept and/or don't give a damn. If allowed, I'll do it again."
So, if you really are sorry, don't apologise: Concentrate on fixing the problem.
This is no better than "Officer, I shouldn't be held responsible, because I don't really know how to drive." If you're serious, though, please limit the damage: For God's sake, sell the computer and revert to an Etch-A-Sketch. Now.
Ponder this: Why should anyone but you care? The damage remains unchanged, and, far from reassuring others, this excuse-making will probably convince them that you're a disaster waiting to happen.
Experience suggests that, if we were able to kill off the well-intentioned at birth, as a preventative measure, the leftover evil-doers would be small potatoes, in comparison.
People who think this way, Come The Day, will be strait-jacketed and deposited in rubber-walled rooms, the environment best suited to their leadership potential. Permanently. Meanwhile, by raising this traditional excuse of losers and screw-ups, you've demonstrated that whatever small trust (to exercise reasonable caution) was recently bestowed on you was a grave error that shouldn't be repeated.
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Copyright (C) 1995-2012 by Rick Moen. Verbatim copying, distribution, and display of this entire article (page) are permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved. Alternatively, you may create derivative works of any sort for any purpose, provided your versions contain no attribution to me, and that you assert your own authorship (and not mine) in every practical medium.